Day in the life of
Translator – Adam Goulston
I deal with the English–Japanese language pair. The greatest challenge in my translation work from Japanese to English is figuring out what they’re “really saying” and then putting it in a variety of ways depending on the intended audience. Japanese famously relies on inference and subtle suggestion rather than going straight to the point. English typically does not. For example, Japanese uses the collective “let’s” when it’s really an imperative. What literally translates as “Let’s mind our manners and cleanly use our facilities” may be best translated as “Don’t leave garbage in the restroom,” or, depending on the reader and place, may need something a bit cheeky. You’ll see lots of “Let’s” signs in Japan. These usually mean the sign-poster, (1) had their Japanese directly translated, without localizing or rewording for intent, (2) did it themselves to save the embarrassment/trouble/inconvenience of asking for help, or, commonly (3) dropped it into auto-translate. “Let’s” signs are also a direct translation of the culture. Japan has abundant signs and reminders to “do the right thing.” In many cultures, there may be no sign or reminder at all. So, in some cases, the best translation may be no translation at all!